With the graduation season past us, we now have a plethora of commencement speech videos circulating on the internet. Some of them are classics from years ago, some are fairly new, and some have gone viral. There are two that were presented this year that have very different messages.
Jim Carrey’s commencement speech to the Maharishi University of Management showed up in a few places on my Facebook feed first. I should preface this with the caveat that I’m not a fan of Jim Carrey’s movies, nor am I a great appreciator of his sense of humor. Because of that, I almost clicked away from it, which would have meant missing the main messages he had to give. He spoke of being authentic, enthusiastic, and limitless, and connected to everything and everyone in his surroundings. His bit on fear encourages us to take a chance on doing what we love because it’s possible to fail in pursuing the safe route, as well as our dreams. Carrey promotes a strong sense of servant leadership, inspiring people to figure out how they can go out into the world and serve others the best. “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is, because everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and the only thing that will be left is what was in your heart.” Also, support of the adages of “know thyself” and “to thine self be true” are offered, as Carrey suggests “To find real peace, you must let the armor go. Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through in this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.” And free yourself from the negativity in your head, as well as the constraints and labels we tend to put on ourselves. “It’s about letting the universe know what you want, and working toward it while letting go of how it comes to pass.”
Carrey concludes with this summation:
“You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world, and as you walk through those doors, you will only have two choices: love or fear. Choose love, and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.”
The other speech that has gotten some press is that from Shonda Rhimes at Dartmouth this year.
It is one that has all the hallmarks of Rhimes’s quick and quirky narrative style with which Grey’s Anatomy fans are familiar. She starts to go in a similar direction as Carrey, speaking of people and their dreams, then abruptly informs us: “I think that’s crap. I think that while there are a lot of people busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people are busy doing.” Lesson 1: ditch the dream, and be a doer, not a dreamer. Rhimes had a dream to be Toni Morrison until she realized that role was already taken, so she figured out how to encourage the best in becoming herself through writing in film school. Her next lesson: as graduates from an ivy-league school, they have reached a pinnacle of achievement of their lives, about to go into a world that treats others as ordinary and not special. Though this circumstance is tough, Rhimes insists that the new grads guard themselves against acting like privileged jerks. Instead, she suggests giving back to others by volunteering or somehow helping to make the world suck less. There is a level of balance in life, meaning that successes in one part of life are countered with failures in another part of life.
Like Carrey, she advocates for standing up, being heard, and being yourself.
Two very different speeches with some intersections and some seeming contradictions.
I found them both useful because they offer a sense of balance of what we need to do in our lives in order to achieve worthwhile goals and be happy and productive. This kind of balance among doers, dreamers, and incrementalists (who are a blend of both) is found in Scott Belsky’s book, Making Ideas Happen: The Dreamer, the Doer, and the Incrementalist. Interestingly enough, Belsky does not recommend that everyone strive to be an incrementalist, but rather to embrace what one is and make it a point to collaborate with those who are different (or those who can fill in the gaps.)
Keeping all of this in mind, I am planting myself more firmly at the intersection of Carrey and Rhimes, at Belsky corner, acknowledging my dreams, planning what to do, doing it, and finding others to help execute the doing when I tend to get too stuck in my head. And, of course, showing my true self in its entirety is of utmost importance.